Robert Redford: The Biography

Robert Redford

ROBERT REDFORD came from a typical 1930s L.A. background, where the oil business met Christian Science. We learn in Michael Feeney's new biography that Redford ran with a gang of Santa Monica JDs. Later, he flunked out of the University of Colorado. These misdeeds serve the same purpose as the subcutaneous cysts on Redford's face in Nora Ephron's description: They're there to keep him from looking too handsome.

After a European sojourn, Redford starred in the Broadway hit Barefoot in the Park. But director George Roy Hill still considered his star "a blank slate" at the beginning of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). The later bromantic pairing of Redford and Newman in The Sting pioneered the new style of buddy movie.

Still, he was "a tranquilizing actor," judged critic David Thomson. Despite the undeniable star presence that sold a billion dollars in tickets, Redford was famous for showing up late, uncertain of lines, unable to repeat takes. Even before he was the Sundance Kid, Redford's eyes were on the mountaintops. At ruinous expense, he turned a Utah valley into a family compound, then to an unprofitable ski resort, lastly into the famous lab for independent cinema. Despite its many successes, it was as bedeviled with money troubles and regime changes as if it were a large studio. The description of Redford's Oscar-winning success Ordinary People finds Callan genuflecting over the director's perfectionism. He should be grateful; Redford provided scads of his own diaries to explain his side of crises over the years. As director, Redford can be proud of Quiz Show. All the President's Men explained Watergate to the masses. Redford deserves respect for his early and tireless environmentalism. It's easy to be a conservationist in the Bay Area—far less so in rural Utah. And what's so funny about Redford's desire to play "representational romantic characters of some moral standing"? (The zillionaire whoremaster of Indecent Proposal is the exception that proves the rule.)

This relentlessly exculpatory biography sums up Redford's drive—as well as his calm self-justification that reminds one of that other RR, Ronald Reagan. The untold story is hinted at by a quote from Jeremy Larner, Redford's collaborator on The Candidate: "The trouble with you guys [movie stars] is that you fictionalize your own existence."

Robert Redford: The Biography

By Michael Feeney Callan


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